As the long dreary months stretched into years of COVID-19 lockdowns and advice against gathering, many people found themselves without much connection to their fellow humans and without many of the joys of life. Enter Wendy Luella Perkins and her inclusive, uplifting meditative practice, ‘Soulful Singing,’ which promotes mindfulness, creativity, community, and joy even when we can’t be together physically.
Perkins is a Unitarian Universalist minister and lifelong singer who explores the interplay between singing and spirituality. She developed Soulful Singing (singing as a spiritual practice) in 2002 from her love of singing for the simple pleasure of it, and from her “desire to create communities of joy and transformation.”
In pre-pandemic times, Perkins offered Soulful Singing groups a few times a week around Kingston and facilitated workshops around the country. However, when COVID-19 put an end to social gatherings, the committed community activist knew she had something special to share, and took her practice online.
From meeting once or twice a week in person with her Soulful Singing clientele, she moved to offering online Soulful Singing sessions every morning and every Thursday evening over Zoom from her home. On March 20, 2022 the Soulful Singing community celebrated two years, 730 straight days of singing together each and every day.
This has led to a wonderful story of community, as a group of women and men from across the continent now start each day on Zoom with Perkins, practising gratitude, breathing, and meditation through song together. Soulful Singing might not be a cure for COVID-19, but it is certainly a great antidote to the stress, loneliness, and isolation that it brought the world.
In a Zoom gathering with Perkins and her group on Wednesday, Mar. 9, 2022, their enthusiasm for song and its spiritual power was visceral. A prolific writer of folk songs and meditative chants, Perkins coached participants through a number of singing exercises and meditations and engaged with input from her community.
After each hour or so of meditative singing, the group shared thoughts about the feelings the meditation promoted, exploring them together in a sharing session. “You know, we’ve called [the end of each session] ‘sharing time’ for about a year and a half, but then I realized most of it was listening with a bit of sharing,” Perkins explained. “The idea being that after our practice together, it’s really nice to spend some time listening to what might be arising in our hearts. It’s good to pay attention to what’s arising out of our practice.”
She went on, “I try to pay attention to my body, noticing any sensations … in my head, my heart, [what] feelings may be arising. I might choose to share, I might choose not to share… but part of it is sharing it with yourself and listening and hearing and noticing it in your own heart.”
Many of the participants stayed late after their regular session to discuss what they love about the group. “It’s been a wonder to find a new community and it does get me out of bed every morning,” said Dawn in Florida.
“I can’t think of anything else that would get me up this early,” agreed Ann, who participates from an earlier timezone in Nashville, Tennessee. “It’s made me go to bed earlier to be there in the morning. It has shuffled my whole schedule.”
Not only does Ann enjoy the sessions, but she finds them very therapeutic both emotionally and physically. Having had COVID, she has suffered some long-term effects in her lungs, and she said Soulful Singing has exercised her lungs and helped her remember how to breathe mindfully and purposefully. She is one of a number of members who are recovering from the virus.
Further, having suffered a personal loss and a big move to Nashville right before the pandemic hit, Ann says the group has been a godsend for her as she has become part of an online community that stretches beyond just the daily singing.
Bonnie from Kingston shared her experience: “What the community does, it’s not just contained here; that energy and that practice move outwards… even the little songs that we learn here, we go out and they come to us at just the right time and we can sing them to somebody who needs that song.
Bonnie went on, “Wendy Luella is not just our leader, but she leads us to lead.” For example, some members now take over the role of leader from Perkins so she can have a break. Others have learned to share their own talents by inviting the community to join them online for workshops that they lead, be it self-massage, crafting, or other art forms.
Participation in the group is absolutely stress free: members can turn their cameras and microphones on and off as they please, and if they don’t wish to sing at a particular moment they don’t have to. One participant explained, “I wanted to say something about the welcoming way that Wendy Luella talks about our participation in the group. It gives me the permission to get the dishes done, or turn off my video and finish my breakfast. And it challenges the idea that I have to pay attention by keeping my focus on whoever it is that’s speaking or singing. I can take in the information through my ears and do what I need to do. Wendy Lu makes this very clear, almost every time I’ve been on, and that makes it possible for me to say, ‘Yeah, I want to participate and it’s okay.’”
The online community comes and goes, explained Perkins, but most of the members stick with the sessions because they have found something that makes them feel good, even in the darkest parts of the pandemic. The members are people of all walks of life, from all over Canada and the USA with occasional overseas visitors, and are observably fond of their time together.
Over the pandemic, they have celebrated birthdays and other rites of passage, even weathered sickness and death together. Perkins said, “When people have a birthday, we celebrate we sing, people blow out candles online like there’s a real [party] happening. It’s amazing.”
This day, a number of the members shared thoughts and messages of love for others who were experiencing family tragedies.
It was truly remarkable participating and listening to the strangers who have become a community in one of the darker points of our history. One of the songs the group meditated on that day summed up beautifully what this group has meant to so many of the members throughout the pandemic. A soulful slow and simple tune, they sang: “Slow it all down. Take it all in. Let it all go. Open. Open.”
To learn more or to join Soulful Singing, you can visit Wendy Luella Perkins’ website, view her TikTok firstname.lastname@example.org